Warning shots, tear gas fired to disperse Tunisia demo
SIDI BOUZID – Police yesterday fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of last year’s revolution, an AFP journalist reported.
Hundreds of demonstrators, demanding the resignation of the Islamist-led government, tried to force their way into the provincial government headquarters, before the police fired tear gas and warning shots into the air.
The protesters broke through the entrance to the compound, but when the shots and tear gas were fired, the panicked crowd scattered, the journalist said.
One person was wounded by a rubber bullet and four others affected by the tear gas were taken to Sidi Bouzid hospital, an official there said, adding that none of them was in a serious condition.
The demonstrators had been chanting anti-government slogans such as “The people want the regime to fall!” accusing the ruling elite of “hypocrisy” and demanding the right to work.
Several opposition groups took part in the protest, including the Republican Party, the Tunisian Workers Party and Al-Watan, as well as political independents.
“The people’s demands for an improvement in their quality of life are becoming more and more insistent, but unfortunately, the government is not there to serve the people,” Mohammed Ghadri, a member of the Republican Party, told AFP.
A similar incident took place at the end of June, when protesters angered over their living conditions attacked the same building, hurling rocks and burning tyres, with police firing tear gas to disperse them.
Some demonstrators also broke down the door and sacked offices of the ruling Islamist party Ennahda.
Sidi Bouzid is where the uprising began that eventually toppled former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and touched off the Arab Spring, when a street vendor immolated himself in December 2010 in protest over his own precarious livelihood.
The town is located in a particularly marginalised region, and little has improved since the revolution, according to analysts.
“The residents of Sidi Bouzid live in very difficult conditions, especially with the water and electricity cuts seen recently,” said political expert Ahmed Manai. “These protests were to be expected.”
Poor living conditions, including high youth unemployment, were a driving factor behind the revolution.
Despite signs of an economic recovery this year, many people remain frustrated by the government’s failure to improve their social circumstances, which has raised tensions and often led to strikes and confrontations with the police.
Ennahda has rejected the criticisms levelled against it, with the party’s historic leader Rached Ghannouchi saying earlier this week that the hostile language of the media and strike calls threatened “the unity of the country.”
Menai, the political analyst, believes the Islamist party lacks “political consciousness,” arguing that it used its electoral victory in October last year to dominate the political scene, and has largely turned its back on dialogue. – Nampa-AFP